Finally released, Trump tax returns show how he used laws to minimize his liability
Documents reveal details from foreign accounts, charitable contributions, performance of some of ex-president’s highest-profile business ventures
AP — Democrats in Congress released thousands of pages of former US president Donald Trump’s tax returns on Friday, providing the most detailed picture to date of his finances over a six-year period, including his time in the White House, when he fought to keep the information private in a break with decades of precedent.
The documents include individual returns from Trump and his wife, Melania, along with Trump’s business entities from 2015-2020. They show how Trump used the tax code to lower his tax obligation and reveal details about foreign accounts, charitable contributions and the performance of some of his highest-profile business ventures, which had largely remained shielded from public scrutiny.
The disclosure marks the culmination of a years-long legal fight that has played out everywhere from the presidential campaign to Congress and the Supreme Court as Trump persistently rejected efforts to share details about his financial history — counter to the practice of transparency followed by all his predecessors in the post-Watergate era. The records release comes just days before Republicans retake control of the House and weeks after Trump began another campaign for the White House.
Trump, according to the filings, reported having bank accounts in China, Ireland and the United Kingdom in 2015 through 2017, even as he was commander in chief. Starting in 2018, however, he only reported an account in the UK. The returns also show that Trump claimed foreign tax credits for taxes he paid on various business ventures around the world, including licensing arrangements for use of his name on development projects and his golf courses in Scotland and Ireland.
Trump paid $641,931 in federal income taxes in 2015, the year he began his campaign for president, according to a report released last week by Congress’s nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation. He paid $750 in 2016 and 2017, nearly $1 million in 2018, $133,445 in 2019 and nothing in 2020, the year he unsuccessfully sought reelection.
The documents show that Trump’s charitable donations fluctuated during his presidency but, in his final years in office, represented only a sliver of his income. In 2020, Trump reported no charitable donations at all. In 2019 and 2018 he reported writing checks for about $500,000 in donations. In earlier years the numbers were higher — $1.8 million in 2017 and $1.1 million in 2016.
It’s unclear whether the reported sums included Trump’s $400,000 annual presidential salary, which he had said he would forgo and said he had donated to various federal departments.
While Trump has long claimed that being president cost him millions of dollars, the filings show that his election technically gave Trump a raise by some measures. His wages increased from about $14,000 in 2015 to $373,000 in 2017, the filings show.
In a statement Friday, Trump said Democrats “never should have done it,” referring to the release.
“It’s going to lead to horrible things for so many people,” he said. “The radical, left Democrats have weaponized everything, but remember, that is a dangerous two-way street!”
He said the returns demonstrated “how proudly successful I have been and how I have been able to use depreciation and various other tax deductions’ to build his businesses.
Presiding over a routine pro forma session of the House on Friday, Rep. Don Beyer, chairman of the Joint Economic Committee, said great care had been taken to ensure the returns were treated with sensitivity, with personal and other identifying information redacted.
“We’ve been trying to be very careful to make sure that we weren’t ‘weaponizing’ the IRS returns,” said Beyer, D-Va. He also is a member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, which held a party line vote last week to make the returns public.
The returns show how Trump used tax law to minimize his liability.
For 2020, more than 150 of Trump’s business entities listed negative qualified business income, which the IRS defines as “the net amount of qualified items of income, gain, deduction and loss from any qualified trade or business.” In total for that tax year, combined with nearly $9 million in carryforward loss from previous years, Trump’s qualified losses amounted to more than $58 million for the final year of his term in office.
Aspects of Trump’s finances had been shrouded in mystery since his days as an up-and-coming Manhattan real estate developer in the 1980s.
Trump, known for building skyscrapers and hosting a reality TV show before winning the White House, did provide limited details about his holdings and income on mandatory disclosure forms. He has promoted his wealth in the annual financial statements he provides to banks to secure loans and to financial magazines to justify his place on rankings of the world’s billionaires.
Trump’s longtime accounting firm has since disavowed the statements, and New York Attorney General Letitia James has filed a lawsuit alleging Trump and his Trump Organization fraudulently inflated asset values on the statements. Trump and his company have denied wrongdoing.
In October 2018, The New York Times published a Pulitzer Prize-winning series based on leaked tax records that contradicted the image Trump had tried to sell of himself as a self-made businessman. It showed that Trump received a modern-day equivalent of at least $413 million from his father’s real estate holdings, with much of that money coming from what the Times called “tax dodges” in the 1990s.
A second series in 2020 showed that Trump paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years because he generally lost more money than he made.
In its report last week, the Ways and Means Committee indicated the Trump administration may have disregarded a requirement mandating audits of a president’s tax filings.
The IRS only began to audit Trump’s 2016 tax filings on April 3, 2019 — more than two years into his presidency — when the Ways and Means chairman, Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., asked the agency for information related to the tax returns.
The Joint Committee on Taxation report raised multiple red flags about aspects of Trump’s tax filings, including his carryover losses, deductions tied to conservation and charitable donations, and loans to his children that could be taxable gifts.
Every president and major-party candidate since Richard Nixon has voluntarily made at least summaries of their tax information available to the public. Trump bucked that trend as a candidate and as president, repeatedly asserting that his taxes were “under audit” and couldn’t be released.
The Trump Organization was convicted earlier this month on tax fraud charges for helping some executives dodge taxes on company-paid perks such as apartments and luxury cars.